Last Monday in the House of Commons a number of MPs took part in the second reading of the Business and Planning Bill which appears to be supported by both the Government and the Labour Party. This suggests it will become a law after the third reading and the committee sessions that are part of the route for law making. The following elements were including in the debate and are worth making people in our industries aware of them. Whilst there are some very positive elements of this we need to ensure that the valid planning aspects do not get ignored as we clearly need very good quality new proposals to be those that get approved and the views of the local residents need to be seriously considered. So here are some of the words spoken, all of which came from here. The main speaker was Alok Sharma who is the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).He was joined by Ed Miliband who is the Labour Shadow Secretary of State for BEIS.
Alok Sharma: Through this Bill, we want to support the construction sector to get Britain building again by enabling the extension of site operating hours and extending until 1 April 2021 planning permissions that have lapsed or will lapse between 23 March and 31 December….In 2018, this sector represented almost 9% of our GDP. Lockdown has had a profound impact on construction sites across the country. We estimate that almost 1,200 unimplemented major residential planning permissions, with capacity to deliver over 60,000 homes, have lapsed or will lapse between the start of lockdown on 23 March and 31 December this year. Therefore, the Bill introduces powers to extend these planning permissions and listed building consents to 1 April 2021. This will be automatic for permissions that have not lapsed at the point that these measures come into force. Lapsed permissions can be reinstated and can benefit from the same extension, but subject to necessary environmental approvals.
We will also make it quicker for developers to apply for longer construction site working hours. This will help to facilitate safe working—for example, by staggering workers’ hours—and to make up for lost progress. Applications will be concluded within 14 days. This measure does not apply to applications from individual householders. Local authorities retain discretion and can refuse applications where there would be an unacceptable impact. Again, this is a temporary measure. Extended hours can only last up until 1 April 2021, unless extended by secondary legislation.
We also want to support the transport sector by enabling shorter-term licences for drivers of heavy goods vehicles and passenger carrying vehicles and allowing for the risk-based testing of HGVs and public service vehicles. These measures will allow goods and public transport to keep moving. We want to continue to support small and medium-sized enterprises through the quicker delivery of bounce-back loans, which have provided a financial lifeline for more than 920,000 small businesses so far. This measure is retrospective and will disapply elements of consumer credit law.
Ed Miliband: We also welcome the measures in enabling construction sites to get back to work more easily through extended working hours. Again, and I am sure that Members across the House will agree with me, it is in the interests of local residents that local authorities have discretion in these matters.
Inevitably there were other very helpful contributions. One was by the SNP Human Rights spokesperson, Jim Shannon:
Jim Shannon: The Secretary of State mentioned 60,000 houses that big companies will be able to build, but does he recognise that small and medium-sized companies that do refurbishments, extensions and small works are critical to the core of the economy? Will he ensure that they can also progress their applications through councils for approval? They may be sitting on the line where that may not happen.
Alok Sharma: As I said, these measures will not relate to residential applications that have been made. The whole point is to get the construction sector moving. I have talked about a range of measures that we have set out for the sector, and I hope that more SME builders will be able to take advantage of them.
The final speaker was Christopher Pincher who is the Minister of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
Christopher Pincher: However, we know that there is more to do. Home starts and completions are well down on last year, with planning permissions for at least 60,000 homes hanging in the balance. That is why we are speeding up the planning system through the temporary measures in the Bill as part of a wider reform to ensure that it is fit for the 21st century. That means greater flexibility for builders to seek extensions to site working hours to facilitate social distancing, which will support the sector’s safe economic recovery. We want work on construction sites to resume swiftly and safely, but I recognise the potential effect of the change on residents when we are all spending more time at home.
I encourage builders to work constructively with local communities and councils to minimise disruption. I want to be clear that councils will retain local discretion over the decision-making process. They also have legal duties regarding statutory nuisance, which continue. They know their areas best and that is why they will continue to have discretion in their local decision-making processes. They are well placed to judge the effect on local businesses and residents, and where there will be an unacceptable impact, they retain the discretion to refuse extended hours.
We are also enabling the extension of planning permissions that have expired since the lockdown began or are about to expire, saving literally hundreds of projects. This is at the request of local authorities and the construction sector. I recognise that there is a risk of schemes being delayed further if existing permissions are extended too long, which is why this will be only a temporary measure. Our extension date of 1 April 2021 strikes the right balance between giving certainty to the sector and ensuring that there are no further undue delays to new developments.
As I have suggested, there are some very positive aspects of these words, providing that the planning rules are not made weaker as it is important that new building provision is good quality. However if there are effective ways of reducing the timescales and increasing the amount of work that can be formed in our industries.